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Biotic Part of the Product Material Footprint: Comparison of Indicators Regarding Their Interpretation and Applicability

The product material footprint (PMF) represents a central instrument to assess the potential environmental impacts of products and services based on their life-cycle-wide material use. Within the life cycle impact assessment framework, the indicators raw material input (RMI) and total material requirement (TMR) have been used for its calculation, but so far, only abiotic materials have been considered. This research analyses the requirements and indicators for the assessment of the biotic part of the PMF. The central question is whether the indicators RMI biotic and TMR biotic are suitable for this purpose or if they need to be adapted. For comparison, the indicator cumulative raw material demand (CRD) is applied. The indicator concepts of RMI, TMR, and CRD are compared by defining the system boundaries for determining the biotic parts of the footprint. To test the applicability, the production of wheat bread is assessed as a case study. The characterization factors of wheat grains are determined and each of the three indicators is implemented in the software openLCA for use with the ecoinvent database. The results show that RMI biotic and TMR biotic are suitable indicators for the quantification and assessment of the biotic part of the PMF. While CRD abiotic provides the same information as RMI abiotic, both indicators differ regarding the biotic part. The CRD per definition does not consider biotic inputs from agriculture and forestry and thus conveys insufficient information on the used and unused biomass extraction for the product LCA. The ratio of RMI biotic to the net annual increment and TMR biotic to the net primary production could be used for absolute sustainability assessment